organization design

How you design your organization will determine your success

According to the Blessing White 2008 Employee Engagement Report, fewer than one in
three employees (31%) in North America are fully engaged in their work. (The number is 37% for India and 17% for China.)  This translates to enormous loss in productivity and revenue.

Interesting point to note: almost, all of these employees, surveyed, are a part of the traditional, hierarchical form of organization. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular metaphors of organizations.

A. Organization as Machine 

  1. Each person has a specific task to do. (An office assistant gets all the stationery, an HR manager takes care of hiring and payroll, etc.) All these parts (staff) form the machine (company).
  2. Staffs can be easily replaceable (just like the parts of machines).
  3. Just like for any given machine, the problems in any organization is finite and predictable.
  4. Disregard for the creativity and innovation capacity of the staff.
  5. Focus on efficiency, above all.

Comment: Conversations with the staff of such an organization may seem very scripted and cold. The atmosphere inside such an organization may seem to be stressful and competitive.

B. Organization as Organism 

  1. Like organisms, organization can adapt to their environment in order to survive.
  2. Focus is on effectiveness (getting the desired result), as opposed to efficiency.
  3. Self-regulating system that will evolve and adapt according to the change in environment.
  4. Promotes change and innovation.

Comment: It assumes that the staff are infinitely adaptable. But, in reality, everyone has a limit, beyond which they break. Staff who are unable to adapt may make the company weaker. Hence, it’s very important to hire staff, according to the particular organization’s needs.

C. Organization as Brain

  1. Every aspect of organizational functioning thrives on continuous innovation and improvement (double-loop learning).
  2. Continuous learning can detect deviations and initiate corrective actions, quickly.
  3. Failures are not considered to be learnings.
  4. Frequent brainstorming, research, and knowledge-sharing.

Comment: This type of organization ensures that the same mistakes are never repeated. Staff become better with each experience. Each person of the staff is considered a valuable asset.

D. Organization as Culture

  1. The staff have shared values and beliefs, and symbols and ceremonies.
  2. Collaboration among staff.
  3. There is a mutual consensus about what is normal and abnormal behaviour.

Comment: This is popular with various Sports clubs like Manchester United or Chicago Bulls. The staff and clients (fans) are tied to a common goal. In today’s world, every company is trying to build and grow its own Culture-based organization.

E. Organization as Politics

  1. There are individual/departmental/management/employee interests coming together to form the organization.
  2. Collision of interests could bring conflict when competing for position, space and resources.
  3. Managers need to maintain a balance between:
    • Constructive conflicts: energy, adaptability and innovation
    • Destructive conflicts: immobility, complacency and lethargy
  4. Power struggles often take place beneath the surface.

Comment: Workplace and Politics is very much synonymous. But, this type of organization is harmful for the staff as well as the company. Productivity and efficiency are, both, affected.


There are three more metaphors in the book, Images of Organization. It is a best-seller book by Gareth Morgan, professor of organizational behaviour and industrial relations.

What is your Organization type? Would you consider having a combination of different metaphors for your Organization?

Travel transports me to some euphoric placetime. Once there, I, almost, only, meet beautiful people; see places that fill me with pure bliss; and face experiences that inspire me to be more of myself. Then I go back home and write about them. Email: thehoboist[at]gmail[dot]com

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